T.J. Smith, a former Baltimore Police Department spokesman, formally announced his run for mayor on Tuesday.
The Democrat made the announcement on the 1400 block of Argyle Avenue, the same street where his younger brother Dionay was murdered in the summer of 2017.
Surrounded by other families who lost loved ones to violence, Smith said the city needs fresh leadership to drive meaningful change.
Smith, 42, worked most recently as a spokesman for Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. for just about 10 months. He resigned earlier this month to pursue his run.
Smith spent two decades in law enforcement, starting as a beat cop in Anne Arundel County and eventually becoming that department’s spokesman. He joined the Baltimore department in August 2015, shortly after the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody.
Unlike other police spokespersons, Smith’s media briefings were marked by stark condemnations and emotional remarks on the specifics of crimes.
As the department itself dealt with community distrust, Smith was praised by supporters for consistency and empathy. Critics have said he was no more than a mouthpiece and an apologist.
He left the department in October 2018, citing an “unstable environment” and “political turmoil.”
“I just felt it was time to leave,” he told WYPR’s Midday.
“When I stood before the podium and before the community, I didn’t give the politically correct answer all the time,” he added. “I was a straight shooter.”
Smith holds a master’s degree in management from Johns Hopkins University and a master’s degree in strategic communication from Washington State University.
Smith joins Democratic candidates Mayor Jack Young and City Council President Brandon Scott, the only two elected officials to declare. Other Democratic candidates include Baltimore activist Carlmichael “Stokey” Cannady and Thiru Vignarajah, a former state Deputy Attorney General and former candidate for Baltimore City State's Attorney. Former mayor Shelia Dixon, also a Democrat, is considering a run.
In Baltimore, Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 10-1, meaning the winner of the April 28 primary will likely go on to win the general election. The deadline to file is Jan. 24.